Frauds, scams, and schemes cost Alaskans millions last year

(Photo illustration by Flickr user photosteve10)

In 2016, Alaskans lost $2,745,716 to financial frauds and scams. And that’s just from the people who filed complaints. Officials suspect many more residents were victims but never contacted authorities.

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Federal Trade Commission data show that last year, 3,031 complaints were filed in Alaska, about a third of them in Anchorage.

Now, the FTC is making a big push to raise awareness about online and phone scams and is highlighting how minority and immigrant communities across the country are targeted. The FTC said poorer people are more frequently victims of such schemes, as are minorities and immigrants, who tend to be more vulnerable and report scams less frequently.

Local groups and New American Media, a national consortium of multicultural news organizations, hosted a stakeholder round-table conversation on Monday. Federal, state and local officials discussed the kinds of fraud schemes they see.

“Alaska is very much a victim state, and what that means is we don’t really have a lot of fraudsters in Alaska,” Ed Sniffen, the state’s Deputy Attorney General, said. “The fraudsters are in other places and they pray on people here in Alaska.”

Sniffen said the Attorney General’s office receives hundreds of complaints ranging from sophisticated impersonation schemes to Nigerian email scams.

The most common way Alaskans are tricked into giving money or sensitive personal information is called an “imposter scam.” A person might be told over the phone that they missed jury duty, or failed to file their taxes properly, and is then invited to clear up the problem by giving their credit card or social security number. Last year, 482 complaints over impostor scams were filed in Alaska. Fake lottery and sweepstakes schemes are also prevalent.

Detective Michele Logan has worked with the Anchorage Police Department’s Financial Crimes unit for 15 years, and sees thousands of scams that are reported to APD. Bringing forth charges is almost impossible, because their jurisdiction only extends over the municipality.

“Most of these scams come from different areas of the country or the world, and we cannot physically go and arrest someone with these scams,” Logan said. “Unfortunately we get the reports of these scams after someone has been scammed, and it’s a sad phone call when I have to explain to someone ‘we can’t get your $50,000 back,’ or ‘your $300,000 back.'”

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Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska. @ZachHughesAK About Zachariah